Occupy at Netroots

It was a truly weird feeling to be looking out the window of the swanky Convention Center at my friends camped out on the sidewalk several stories down. Maybe it’s an ex-Catholic thing, but I half-expected that they would challenge me to share their sacrifice and discomfort. I had spent time with them through the Fall and Winter, met many people who held down jobs and dedicated all their time off to the Occupation. Though they have sympathizers and allies from diverse communities, it’s a small group who have continued meeting twice a week for the General Assembly.

But Artemis said “we each do what we are able, we need everyone’s contribution.”

Inside the Convention Center there was much the same feeling, though some I talked to asked why Occupy could not change its strategy and engage in electoral politics. I said that we need a goad to our conscience, we need people who put the issues out there– issues of economic justice. Both parties are so compromised by the influence of money in politics that it’s rare to hear plain speaking. Maybe that’s why so many politicians resort to simple-minded ‘us vs them’. It’s the junk food of discourse.

Daily Kos has an analysis of the role of Occupy in bringing the issue of economic injustice to the front page…

The post-election challenge for the members of Wisconsin’s uprising is finding a new way to fight for and achieve needed change without simply pinning their hopes on a candidate or an election. After all, that’s part of what absorbed the nation when a bunch of students first moved into the Wisconsin state capitol and wouldn’t go home, or when a ragtag crew of protesters camped out in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and wouldn’t leave either. In both cases, they had harnessed the outrage felt by so many Americans for a cause other than what’s usually called “politics” in this country.

And they were successful—even in the most traditional terms; that is, both movements affected traditional politics most strongly when they weren’t part of it. The Occupy movement, for all its flaws, moved even mainstream political discourse away from austerity and deficit slashing and toward the issues of income inequality and the hollowing out of the American middle and working classes.

Avoiding politics as we know it with an almost religious fervor, Occupy still managed to put its stamp on national political fights. Last October, for instance, Ohioans voted overwhelmingly to repeal SB 5, a law that curbed collective bargaining rights for all public-employee unions. Occupy’s “We are the 99%” message reverberated through Ohio, and the volunteers who blitzed the state successfully drew on Occupy themes to make their case for the law’s repeal. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which spent $500,000 in Ohio fighting SB 5, told me at the time, “Every conversation was in the context of the 99% and the 1%, this discussion sparked by Occupy Wall Street.”

I want to mention that Occupy Providence is not a student movement, a youth movement, a homeless movement, a grey-haired lefty movement, a church movement, a worker’s movement, a GLBT movement, an immigrant movement, a worker’s movement– but all of these.

Inside the Convention Center, speakers like Van Jones made a convincing case for staying engaged with electoral politics. I will be volunteering for Democratic candidates this election, and for the re-election of Barack Obama. We need all Americans, Democrat, Republican, Independent to look at the issues and make our best choices in a real world that is full of tough choices.

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2 responses

  1. Nice post which is respectful of both thse who do and those who do not want to engage in electoral politics.
    I agree “Occupy” has been sccessful in changing the language and calling attention to the savage economic inequality that has led to so many struggling, but that movement is short on a strategy on what to do to address this. Thats in part because any specific thing bogs down in tradeoffs and/or difficult judgements.
    The recall election in Wisconsin shows the difficulty of success. There are many reasons for the union failure (money, the psychological appeal of identifying with the rich, the energetic and relentless right-wing media and their army of followers not matched by the progressives) but I want to note from my long-time union membership, the top-down nature of union leadership that until too late failed to much involve the rank-and-file or the public in general, and was complacent about the right-wing threat thinking it wouldn’t affect them.

    1. thanks. I think these are all factors. Also time—too little of it. Tom Barrett had just weeks to campaign against an incumbent, and he was vastly outspent. I’m not taking anything for granted, and I’ll be active for the candidates I support.

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